Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fighting the Long Defeat Explained

In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the Lady Galadriel says about her husband Celeborn and herself the following: "...ever together we have fought the long defeat." Galadriel's words here of course refer to her struggle with Sauron, and also possibly with the advent of the age of men; nevertheless, I think that they appropriately characterize an important element of my attitude towards politics.
For in the end politics is a futile game; no matter what we do as a society, we shall always fail to create a lasting order. As long as this present age lasts, there will always be injustice, war and plain incompetence in the world. If a good ruler rises to power for a time, be assured that a bad one will follow eventually. If a governmental policy appears to work, fear not - it will either reveal some fatal flaw and fail, or be mismanaged and fail (the former is the reason put forward by its opponents; the latter is the explanation of those who favoured it). Why is this?
The reason man cannot rule himself well or solve his many problems is because of sin. His relationship with his Maker is broken, and with that relationship broken his entire being - heart, soul, mind, and strength - is broken as well. Thus no matter what systems are put in place to end an evil, those systems will themselves either contribute to that evil, or fail to end it, or remove it only to create a new one in its place. So why be involved in politics if it is ultimately futile?
The paragraphs above seem to be a recipe for anarchist despair, yet I am not an anarchist nor am I despairing. So why should we be involved in this ever-failing system? There are several reasons for the pursuit of good governance: mitigation of evils, and because God has ordained government to administer justice in society and uses government to further his plans for the world. The phrase "mitigation of evils" may be understood to mean that I do not believe an evil can be eliminated. This is not the case, for it is manifest that some evils have been eliminated (e.g. transatlantic slave trade, extreme poverty in the West). Nevertheless, most evils cannot be ended but only contained; an example of this type of evil being war. We will never eliminate it but we can contain it using policies ranging from international treaties to the maintenance of nuclear deterrents. And even those evils that seem to be eliminated are only gone temporarily; the doors of the temple of Janus were shut in Rome during the reign of Augustus, symbolizing peace within the empire, but this was only for a short time. Nevertheless, evils can be effectively diminished to the point that we can go about our daily business without fear of society collapsing around us. One of the most effective means of doing this is through the institution of government. Since governments are formed and policies effected through politics, politics must be engaged in to mitigate evils. Universal healthcare will not last forever, but it may be an effective means of mitigating the evil of sickness in a society. The word mitigation also indicates the temporary nature of our efforts to end an evil, and guards against the hubris of utopianism.
The main reason to be involved in politics, however, is because God has ordained government as the means to mete out justice in the world and preserve society. Government is one of God's mercies to the fallen world; just as rain falls on the just and the unjust, so everyone regardless of their relationship with God has the opportunity to enjoy a peaceful and prosperous society. Also, until the fruition of God's plan in the Second Coming, human society needs to be sustained and evils held back lest they destroy man before the appointed time. God uses government as a means to this end, so politics can also be a divine calling - God raises up people "for such a time as this."
So politics ought to be engaged in with an attitude of humility, with a recognition that the efforts being engaged in are not solutions but mitigations. Yet it ought to be engaged in all the same, so this blog will cheerfully do so.

1 comment:

Christopher Neuendorf said...

I don't know if you still check this blog (you seem, like me, to have dabbled in it for a few months and slowly been drawn away to other things), but I found your site and this post while searching for "," just in case someone had already used that URL. I'm planning to start a site at,based of course on the same passage from The Lord of the Rings, with hopes of possibly purchasing Galadriel's words sum up my attitude toward not just politics but just about every facet of life in this age, including life in the Church. Though I have some disagreements with you on specific points in your posts, I enjoy them and admire your skill and thoughtfulness as a writer. Are you blogging anywhere else now?